Avoiding the Pretense

by Clare Langley-Hawthorne

I’m still on the road and by the time this post ‘airs’ I will probably be on a plane somewhere over the Pacific. It’s been a whirlwind week- long visit to Denver and not quite enough time for my body clock to reset (though after a week lazing on the beach in Palm Cove I can hardly complain!). We clocked 31 hours traveling last Sunday coming over here and I sincerely hope it won’t be that bad going back!

One thing traveling always highlights for me is there is no glamor in being a writer – or if there is it is fleeting indeed – and I chuckled over Mark Helprin’s article in the Wall Street Journal yesterday entitled ‘Skip the Paris Cafes, And Get a Good Pen.’ It was a fun reminder that the key to writing a great novel is sitting down and doing it, not posing at a cafe as if you are some kind of latter day Ernest Hemingway. This got me thinking of some of the pretensions would be writers might indulge in – and here are just a few that I’ve noticed over the last few years.

  • T-shirts announcing to the world that you are a ‘writer’ (thereby begging completely strangers to indulge your ego and asking about your novel)
  • The ‘faux-complaints’ about one’s agent, editor or book tour, announced in extra-loud tones in conference hallways or in disingenuous Facebook posts (e.g. I just got in at 3am after my first-class trip to see my UK publisher in London was delayed, ah, woe is me!)
  • And speaking of Facebook posts – you know the ones, the endless ones, that seem to spew forth relentlessly marketing someone’s latest literary offering
  • Posers on planes who heave out their manuscript, look around as if searching for inspiration among the throngs of economy seated passengers, and then wait for the tidal wave of approval (while not actually doing any writing or editing on said manuscript!).

So what kind of literary posing have you witnessed? What makes you sometimes want to just say – skip the cafes and the moleskin notebooks and just write the damn novel!

And in spirit of this post, I shall now apologize for not being able to respond to comments as I shall be in mid-air (though in economy…probably the last row next to the loos…)


9 thoughts on “Avoiding the Pretense

  1. I don’t begrudge writers their icons, so long as they help get the writing done. I bought a coffee mug with WRITER on it when I decided to get serious, just so I could look at it daily. And, as long as I got my quota in, I felt it was okay to look.

    I did not, however, take that mug out for a walk in public. In fact, it took me a long time to be able to tell people I was a writer when they asked what I did. Even after I has several novels out.

  2. Oh dear…I’m guilty of hauling out my stuff on a plane once. I had no choice because of a deadline. But I took out the MS in small chunks to avoid questions.

    Didn’t work. The guy next to me watched for a long time then said, “You must be a teacher. Don’t you just hate grading theme papers?”

    I acknowledged it was a bitch…

  3. I do a lot of work on airplanes. If the guy next to me thinks I’m showing off by editing a manuscript, he a) should be ashamed of himself for being nosy, and b) should try it sometime to see how little glamour there is in the process.

    In a social situation among people who glamorize the writer’s life, I rarely discuss the challenges because a) I’m blessed for being able to do what I do, and b) every complaint sounds disingenuous to the other party.

    I figure that the worst day as a writer beats the best day as a laborer.

    John Gilstrap

  4. I’ve never told anyone I am a writer, even though I publish regularly on my blog and compile and edit the monthly newsletter for the Tallahassee Writers Association.

    I consider myself a writer though, I just won’t say so to others because I don’t want to go through the hassle of explaining my real job vs. my passion, the desire to write fiction.

    If/when I finish and get my novel published, I will be proud to announce to the world I am a writer, but only if I decide I want to do it again.


  5. Whenever I travel I do take the travel time to wither write or edit my current audiobook project. I don’t point it out to folks and they typically don’t take notice.

    On the occasion that someone has discovered I’m working on a novel (or editing an audiobook) there have been several people who suddenly felt the urge to tell me all about the novel they’ve been working on but haven’t finished yet and hope to sell for half-a-million to a major publisher if they ever finish it because the few people who have read it think its really cool even though they’re still working on it and its up to about 300k words and still isn’t finished yet.

    This conversation, as indicated by the run-on sentence, may go on for a large portion of period in which I am trapped in the airport waiting for a flight that was apparently taking the long route, or one which the pilot and crew were also trying to avoid the person talking my ear off.

  6. I told a woman on a red-eye flight that I was a technical writer. Why? Just being honest . . . and dumb. So right away – you guessed it – she pulls out this bedraggled manuscript she’s been carting around for years and years. And it’s this reaaly personal rant about how she’s worked so hard to overcome something terrible and hedious in her life and . . . how can I just blow her off and tell her I want to get some sleep?

    “Can you just take a look at it? Just a look. Oh, pah-leeese.”

    Gadzooks. NOW? On a red-eye flight? Oh, help me, Rhonda.

  7. Oh yes, and I didn’t mean I minded people really working on planes! Gosh no! Just the ones pretending:) i can never do anything on planes except sleep…but then after clocking the pacific run twice in a week that’s probably why!

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